• Science denialism at a skeptic conference

    13 Reasons to Doubt

    12/12/14 UPDATE Updated & expanded version of this essay is now online here.

    • My response to Watson’s indirect reply to this essay
    • Appendix of errors and misrepresentations expanded from 24 to 90 items
    • Most of it revised, ~50% new content
    • All common e-book formats now available and paperback coming soon






    On Mars right now, an earthling-built mechanical spider-scientist is driving around and learning the secrets of our sister world. It is doing so after a months long journey, remote controlled by people tens of millions of miles away. What an amazing time to be alive, to witness such wonders of science. This makes it all the more jarring to see how science is routinely attacked by subsets of the very same group of earthlings who can harness its power to accomplish such amazing feats. Readers of this space can probably readily summon examples to mind: biology textbooks in Louisiana, denial of climate change, attacks on the usefulness of vaccinations.

    As scientists and skeptics, many of us have grown to expect this sort of attack on science from  conservative and religious corners, and that is undoubtedly true. But science denialism is not confined to the political right, nor to the religiously motivated. Liberal ideology is a factor in irrational arguments against genetically modified crops,nuclear power, vaccines and immunization, and is the ideology of most people advancing 9/11 conspiracy theories. But surely, if such denialism showed up at a skeptics conference, there’d be hell to pay, right? Well at least it wouldn’t be met with thunderous applause… but that is just what did occur a few weeks ago at the conference called “Skepticon“.

    The denialism brought to Skepticon was to the field of evolutionary psychology, a thriving social science with roots going back to Charles Darwin himself. The critic was internet pundit and self-described feminist and skeptic Rebecca Watson. Watson is known for her blog website, as co-host of a popular skeptic podcast, and for speaking at secular and skeptic conferences. But Watson holds no scientific training or experience. The charge of science denialism is a serious one, and I will support the claim with a preponderance of evidence.

    Watson’s Skepticon presentation. I refer to this YouTube video via video indices for your convenience.

    This essay is necessarily lengthy, so here is an index to help you navigate. Part VI includes a link to a public folder containing the PDF-format versions of many scientific papers discussed here, as well as a Microsoft Word version of the 25 false and misleading claims.

    [box] I. Overview and analysis

    II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialism

    III. Some lingering questions

    IV. 25 false and misleading claims made by Watson

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Resources & further reading



    About me
    I am an anthropology graduate student at UCLA, a part of its bioanthropology section which conducts research in evolutionary psychology and other areas. I do not speak as an authoritative expert on evolutionary psychology, but I do possess significant experience. I have been closely following developments in the field for about a dozen years. I focused on evolutionary psychology during my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois, and my senior thesis research project, an hypothesis test of an adaptationist hypothesis, will be published in December’s issue of Quarterly Review of Biology. I am presently engaged in three research projects in the field of evolutionary psychology.

    I have dedicated my professional and academic life to evolutionary psychology research. This may well mean that I am biased, but I shall strive for objectivity in this post (as I do all my writing). And I will cite evidence to support each of my criticisms.

    I. Overview and analysis

    This is the title slide of Watson’s presentation

    A brief synopsis
    Rebecca Watson’s talk was called “How girls evolved to shop and other ways to insult women with ‘science’ “. Watson reviews a number of evolutionary psychology claims, generally in the form of their appearance in online newspapers and in at least one book. All of these claims she ridicules pertain to sex differences, such as differing tastes between men and women in shopping, sexual preferences, and in the purported favoring of the color pink. Watson’s talk begins with examples of media distortion, the acceptance of non-experts to support a predefined conclusion (for example, that women evolved to shop a certain way), Interestingly, her talk does not seem to be at all about the media distortion of science. Instead, her conclusion focuses on research demonstrating the demotivational effects of perceptions of stereotypical gender imbalances.

    The main points Watson wants to drive home are that evolutionary psychology isn’t science (as indicated by the quotes in the subtitle), and that researchers involved in it work deliberately to reinforce stereotypes and to oppress women. Watson frequently makes overly broad claims about the “they” or “it” of evolutionary psychology without further specificity, leading her audience to assume she simply refers to the entirety of the field, or to a large majority of it.

    Points of agreement
    I think Watson correctly points out several important things about evolutionary psychology. For example, that the media loves to hype and distort the science to sell newspapers, much as it does with other fields like genetics. Her examples in the introduction are good ones. Watson also brings up some truly objectionable research. The study purporting to show evidence that women prefer redder colors by Anya Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling is extremely biased and features a conclusion inadequately supported by the data. Their data show that just about everyone of either gender prefers blue hues to any other. For the record, and as an evolutionary psychology researcher, let me be very clear: there is no compelling evidence that females biologically prefer pink and I don’t believe they do. I believe it is a purely cultural, and recent, development.

    Watson also talks about one of the most infamous names in all of contemporary psychology, Satoshi Kanazawa, saying “he’s just the worst.” I agree. He seems to be a person who thrives on attention, something of a scientific shock jock. Fortunately, he has been most severely criticized by evolutionary psychologists themselves.

    Lastly, Watson notes a Stanford social psychology study which shows that “stereotype threat” can be a powerful force in demotivating people. I couldn’t agree more. I have often argued for 50% female representation at secularist and skeptical events for this exact reason, even knowing that it is likely that fewer than 50% of available speakers at any one time are female. I am not sure what this point has to do with evolutionary psychology, however. I’m familiar with no research or researcher who maintains that stereotypes aren’t capable of being very harmful to society.

     A peculiar sort of skepticism
    Brian Dunning of Skeptoid wrote,  “The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.” This is surely well known to Watson, who calls herself and website “Skepchick”, a truncation of “skeptical chick”. Now we may ask, how would an (apparently) expert skeptic investigate the domain of evolutionary psychology to reach and support the conclusions that Watson has? The first step should be having a firm grasp on what evolutionary psychology is, and to have a working familiarity with the subject. Since we are talking about a scientific field, this at least would mean reading some papers, or maybe at a minimum, some scholarly reviews and meta-analyses. And they should be typical of the field, meaning from reputable journals and mainstream researchers. It would be silly to call biologists creationists and religiously motivated while pointing to Michael Behe and Francis Collins as examples of biologists as a whole.

    Understanding the methods by reading materials on that subject from authorities and shapers of the field would also be required, particularly if you wish to comment directly on the methods of research as Watson does.

    However, Watson seems to have only the most superficial understanding of evolutionary psychology and it isn’t clear that she’s read even one paper in the field. There are many reasons to think this. She cited no sources during her 48-minute talk beyond what is mentioned in newspapers and other media or publicly available abstracts. While she derided media distortion in one part of the talk, she implicitly trusted media reports for the bulk of it, and rather uncritically. It is true that Watson is not an academic and therefore has no ready access to scientific papers (the public generally has to pay publishers to view them, but I have made many papers discussed here available, see part VI). Watson made numerous mistakes in content, misrepresented very basic aspects of researchers work, got citations wrong, and demonstrated ignorance of contrary data. Some of these errors are listed in part IV and discussed in part II. Lastly, we know that Watson is not versed in the literature because she admits this herself. At the end of her talk, an audience member asks Watson if there is any “good evolutionary psychology”. Watson  throws up her hands while saying “prooobably? I’m guessing yes, but it’s so boring.. because you can only make it interesting if you make up everything.  […] if there is good evolutionary psychology, it’s not in the media[…]” (see index 47:30)

    Setting aside the striking anti-science attitude that only media-hypable science can be interesting, as well as the jarring ignorance that a scientific field composed of thousands of researchers working for decades and publishing in numerous reputable science journals only “probably” has some good work being done, Watson clearly reveals that she is only familiar with evolutionary psychology in the “media,” having moments before shown incontrovertibly how unreliable the media is.

    Watson repeatedly cites outliers, people and publications not involved with evolutionary psychology, and disreputable instances of each (as well as a few reputable sources). The first work she mentions in her talk is important because it sets the tone and is, presumably, important to her thesis that evolutionary psychology is pseudoscientific and sexist. She cites a Telegraph article referring to a study done by one Dr. David Holmes about the psychology of shopping. However, this is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed study conducted by a non-evolutionary psychologist paid for by a business to help them sell things better. This has no relevance to Watson’s thesis, unless it’s also true that Colgate’s “9 out of 10 dentists recommend you give us your toothpaste money” studies prove that dental science is bunk. She spends several minutes on Satoshi Kanazawa, a man widely considered disreputable within evolutionary psychology. Even quoting him, Watson referred only to an interview he gave a tabloid newspaper. There was no effort to mention peer-reviewed research, nor to include what mainstream evolutionary psychologists think. The same is true of the VS Ramachandran anecdote that she shares, but more on that in a bit.

    Supporting the extraordinary claims that a large scientific domain is sexist in general and methodologically bereft requires extraordinary evidence. It should entail a very serious, careful look at the nuts and bolts. How is peer-review accomplished? How well does it function? Are many awful studies passing it? How many? How easily? How is it that thousands of people, women and men, in dozens of countries across decades of time are all morally compromised in the same way? Did she speak to even one person who actually does evolutionary psychology?

    Watson has produced no evidence that can even begin to sustain her outlandish claims. Even if Watson was accurately representing every person, paper, and claim in her talk,  she’d have succeeded only in proving some small handful of people making claims about sex differences are academically and/or ethically compromised. Her set of evidence is just too small to say anything more. The problem is not merely that her claims are often faulty, but that she seems not to understand (or not to care?) what a skeptical inquest of a science requires. She does not seem to know how to support her own claims. This is a peculiar sort of “skepticism” indeed.

    [box] I. Overview and analysis

    II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialism

    III. Some lingering questions

    IV. 25 false and misleading claims made by Watson

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Resources & further reading



     II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialists

    In 2007 Scienceblogs writer Mark Hoofnagle wrote an oft-cited essay about 5 general tactics used by denialists to sow confusion. John Cook distilled these a bit for an article in 2010 which discusses climate science denial. The list below is reprinted from his web site skepticalscience.com.

    1. Conspiracy theories
      When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won’t admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
    2. Fake experts
      These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’.
    3. Cherry picking
      This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
    4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
      The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
    5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
      Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.

    It is useful to cite Hoofnagle here because Rebecca Watson demonstrates all five of these in a single presentation and because climate science and evolutionary psychology have a lot in common. (For a good primer on what precisely evolutionary psychology is, read this. )

    Both climate science and evolutionary psychology…

    • are relatively new sciences
    • are less cohesive disciplines than interdisciplinary approaches involving the talents and body of literature from many different disciplines
    • are extraordinarily fecund, spawning hundreds of studies in new directions and expanding human understanding substantially
    • and lastly.. both are attacked as fraudulent by vocal bands of lay idealogues who feel threatened by the premises or conclusions that they believe each represents
    Watson’s denialist tactics

    1. Conspiracy theories
    Watson frequently spoke of a shadowy, diffuse “they” of evolutionary psychology. When she cited researchers by name, they were held as examples of the they, and not distinguished as a subclass.  She also often spoke to their devious, immoral intentions. Not just that they’re mistaken about their claim or that their method is flawed, but that they actively wanted to oppress women and reinforce harmful stereotypes. Thousands of people in dozens of countries, women and men all working together toward goals such as defending rape as “natural” and therefore good (see video indices 20:07, 22:43, 23:41, 35:40, 36:08, 38:40). No evidence was presented which could establish these ulterior motives in such a large group, and as I shall explain, they are entirely false. Mark Hoofnagle wrote the following on Scienceblogs about conspiracy theories; not Watson’s, but his words fit equally well here:

    […] But how could it be possible, for instance, for every nearly every scientist in a field be working together to promote a falsehood? People who believe this is possible simply have no practical understanding of how science works as a discipline.

    2. Fake experts
    Fake experts are not featured prominently in Watson’s talk.  However, at the end Watson cites several fake experts whose opinions on the science are inconsistent with established, uncontroversial knowledge. She implores the audience to read Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, a book seeking to justify a radical social constructionist view of gender differences. While Fine makes some reasonable points about some flawed studies, scholarly reviews have criticized Fine for cherry-picking studies as examples which are amenable to her conclusion and ignoring the rest:

    […] Despite the large amount of junk science on the topic that is reported in the popular media and in some academic outlets, there are also consistent findings of sex differences that hold up across studies, across species, and across cultures. Most of these are ignored by Fine. -Diane Halpern, Science Source

    […] However, there is more to the prenatal testosterone research than the few Baron-Cohen studies she mentions and more to the study of clinical populations affected by early testosterone than CAH girls and their play preferences. Fine’s selective approach leaves the reader with the impression that much of research into the organizing effects of prenatal testosterone on the brain is invalid and unreliable. In reality, the research in this area is extensive, complex and, yes,  uncertain, but not, for those reasons, worthless. The extent of this literature is evident in a review of this research that incorporated almost 300 studies (Cohen-Bendahan et al. 2005). Included were investigations of four different clinical populations, four different direct measures of prenatal hormones, and six different indirect measures. -Margery Lucas, Society Source

    Watson goes on to suggest Greg Laden’s blog. Laden is a bioanthropologist who is on record uttering unscientific opinions such as that men are testosterone-damaged women:

    The problem with men, as a group, as a type of organism, as a subset of humans, is that at various points along the way on their journey from the female template on which all humans are built biologically, they have been altered in ways that make them dangerous assholes. Even when we try to reduce the male-female difference as a society, men who do not willingly participate in that often end up being fairly nasty, dangerous beasts; they may be rapists, they may be batterers, they may be some other thing. They break our efforts to have an egalitarian peaceful world. In a way, they are broken. They are damaged, if you will. Some of that damage is facilitated by what you may know of as testosterone […].

    Last July at a conference Laden reiterated this as Just like a male is a broken female, a dog is a broken wolf (Youtube link). Laden’s unique views on sex and gender are not representative of sound scientific understanding.

    3. Cherry picking
    As outlined in part II, Watson restricted her citations to stories that appear in the general media and critical popular science books. She focused on some of the worst possible examples that could be found, such as the interviews (not publications) with the disgraced Satoshi Kanazawa, instead of focusing on mainstream, reputable researchers. She also limited her citations to the sub-topic of sex and gender differences. While it is understandable that she may choose a narrow topic to present to a conference, she frequently makes her claims about the field in general, not merely as it pertains to sex and gender differences. For example, she rehashes Stephen Jay Gould’s “just so stories” criticism, (long debunked by biologists and others), but then uses as examples only sex and gender claims.

    Bearing in mind that Watson has said that evolutionary psychologists are doing what they do in order to oppress women and maintain stereotypes, we must assume Watson can tell us how evolutionary psychology hypotheses in other areas such as coalitional psychology, social exchange, language, landscape perception, kin detection, emotion, vision & visual attention, tool use and others all oppress women and support gender stereotypes. Watson ignores the majority of the content in the field she demeans as “not science”. Satoshi Kanazawa seems to be her “hockey stick graph” which she believes is enough to damn the whole of the science.

    4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
    Some of Watson’s criticisms would un-make many sciences were we to take them seriously. For example she says (13:27) “they never tell us what genes” as if this is a grand indictment of evolutionary psychology. There are scientists making in-roads in this area, but tracing the path from genes to structures to behavior is difficult-to-impossible, except in the case of disease and disorder. Further, we certainly don’t hold any other sciences to that standard, even the ones for which genes and adaptation are critical. Does anyone know precisely which genes make a cheetah fast, and exactly how they accomplish that? The peacock’s feathers, the fish’s gills? Shall we toss out all the evolutionary biology for which we do not have genetic bases identified? I should think not. Cognitive science also focuses on models divorced from physical stuff like genes and even neurons, but no one doubts that genes and neurons make cognitive capabilities possible (which is why genetic illnesses can severely impact them).

    At 15:41 Watson derisively explained her view of the method of evolutionary psychology as picking a behavior, assuming it is evolved, and then find “anything” in the past that might be relevant to it.  Setting aside the inaccuracy of her summary, she seemed to be balking that such an hypothesis is just totally made up. Yes, Ms. Watson, it is. That is how science works. It is not known what the answers are before starting, so a researcher makes as good a guess as they can and then tests it.

    At 13:39 Watson says that we can’t know enough about the distant past to make assessments of what might have been adaptive. She refers to variation in climate and “environment” and that the lives of our ancestors also “varied”. In other words, evolutionary psychologists can’t make any assumptions. We can’t assume women got pregnant and men didn’t, or that predators needed to be avoided, or that sustenance needed to be secured through hunting or foraging; these are real assumptions evolutionary psychologists use. If we were to toss out evolutionary psychology for this reason, we must also toss out much of biology, archaeology as well as paleoanthropology. Much care must be used in deciding what can and can’t be assumed about the past, but archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, biologists and evolutionary psychologists know this quite well.

    5. Misrepresentations and logical fallacies
    Please see section V. 25 False and misleading statements made by Watson.  In that list, items 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20 and 25 are misleading statements. This is not a comprehensive list. Watson makes liberal use of logical fallacies. I will describe just one for the sake of brevity.

    The naturalistic fallacy. One can hardly find a more pristine example of this fallacy than in criticism of evolutionary psychology, and Watson’s remarks were  no exception. She spelled it out clearly at 38:30 “men evolved to rape… it was used as a well it’s natural for men to rape”. The problem to Watson is that some evolutionary psychologists study the phenomena of rape as a potential adaptation, or a product of adaptations such as the use of violence to obtain what one wants. Watson assumes that if rape is about sex, and sex is good because sex is natural, then rape must be natural and therefore good. This is an absurdity of course; it’s every shade of wrong from the rainbow of ultimate wrongness.

    Scientists also study cancer; it isn’t to morally justify cancer. Hurricanes and hemlock are natural, but bad. The evolutionary psychology of rape informs that rape is a more heinous violent crime than other types of assault, not less. Commenting on Thornhill & Palmer’s book on the subject Tooby and Cosmides wrote, “Thornhill and Palmer argue that women evolved to deeply value their control over their own sexuality, the terms of their relationships, and the choice of which men are to be fathers of their children. Therefore, they argue, part of the agony that rape victims suffer is because their control over their own sexual choices and relationships was wrested from them.” The conclusion here is that the crime is much more emotionally devastating than the mere violence or trespass indicates; also, it implies that men probably can’t understand the true anguish of the experience for women.

    Many influential figures within evolutionary psychology are unpersuaded by the notion of rape as a single coherent adaptation, such as Don Symons, David Buss and David Schmitt. This makes a conspiracy view of the field as monolithic sexists rather unlikely. Lastly, Thornhill and Palmer themselves have said the topic is worth studying to help reduce the rate of rape, not to justify it, as Watson asserted (without citing any evidence for her claim).

    Science denialism: a losing strategy
    Philosopher of biology Elliott Sober wrote in his book Philosophy of Biology (p. 132) the following about adaptationism, the research program prominent in evolutionary biology:

    Adaptationism is first and foremost a research program. Its core claims will receive support if specific adaptationist hypotheses turn out to be well confirmed. If such explanations fail time after time, eventually scientists will begin to suspect that its core assumptions are defective. Phrenology waxed and waned according to the same dynamic (Section 2.1). Only time and hard work will tell whether adaptationism deserves the same fate ( Mitchell and Valone 1990).

    Sober is saying that (for research programs) the proof is in the pudding: creationism hasn’t worked. It hasn’t given a better understanding of life, it hasn’t spawned new questions or sub-disciplines. It has no body of work. Sober also discussed how the once-scientific phrenology similarly failed, eventually. Science denialists have argued that climate science is akin to the failed phrenology, that it is wrong and misguided. This didn’t stop the scientists though, who kept working and discovering more and more. Today climate science is bigger and better than ever. It has innovated and synthesized methods. We’ve gained incredible new insights about how global climate systems function over time, and especially about the life of polar glacier geo/eco-systems. The original findings that the earth is warming have been replicated and supported by new evidences, even if some early research was flawed.

    Evolutionary psychology has followed a similar trajectory in recent decades. Roundly criticized in the 80’s and beyond, researchers were not deterred. Although there are always going to be some  flawed studies, researchers weeded out failed hypotheses and refined methodologies. The influence of evolutionary psychology has steadily grown. Evolutionary psychology theories once controversial are now accepted by mainstream psychology. Every college psychology 101 textbook features evolutionary psychology. New areas of investigation are being explored which may shed important light on critical aspects of the lives of people, including evolutionary medicine and evolutionary theories of humor. Michael Shermer remarked on the mainstreaming of evolutionary psychology back in 2009. Despite some real challenges, evolutionary psychology is a science success story. All the nay-saying in the world can’t change that. Denialism is a losing strategy. The scientists always win in the end.

    [box] I. Overview and analysis

    II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialism

    III. Some lingering questions

    IV. 25 false and misleading claims made by Watson

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Resources & further reading



    III. Lingering questions

    When did the sexual division of labor begin?
    “Recent research by anthropologist Steven Kuhn suggests there was no sexual division of labor prior to the Paleolithic” [Kuhn’s paper Watson cites is the hypothesis that Homo sapiens development of a sexual division of labor 40,000+ years ago allowed them to out-compete Neanderthals.] (14:43)

    “Prior to the 19th century it was expected that men would retain an equal hand in raising children and helping out around the home […] then when the industrial revolution came around men started working the factories leaving women at home[…]” (36:08)

    What is your definition of published scientific work?
    Since Watson told the VS Ramachandran (16:00) story to the audience as if it were a coup against evolutionary psychology, saying incredulously “… and it got published,” without telling them the journal had nothing to do with evolutionary psychology. What’s more, the medical journal purposely invites “radical, speculative” pieces and likely has no serious peer review to speak of (Don Symons commented that if it is peer-reviewed “it must be by chipmunks”). We must conclude that Watson’s definition of published scientific work is anything sent to a journal that will publish a submission.

    Why so flippant?
    Watson’s talk is peppered with snark and sarcasm. Also, it should be clear by now she seems to have spent very little time researching the topic. She doesn’t treat the topic seriously. I do not merely mean that she does not take evolutionary psychology seriously— but the entire topic, including her own contentions, is more performance art than education lecture.

    Watson sees evolutionary psychology as being on par with creationism (she makes this comparison at  8:28) and therefore finds it fit for ridicule. She even says mocking it “never gets old”. Even so, what about the impact evolutionary psychology might have? That seems less than amusing. For the sake of argument, let us imagine everything Watson believes is correct: Those who conduct research in the field are mostly misogynists who are dedicating many years to the pursuit of justifying harmful stereotypes and oppressing women. They’ve succeeded in compromising peer review, and the professional journals which publish them are mouthpieces of the patriarchy and scientific rigor is gone. They’ve infiltrated the top universities in the world- UCLA, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Yale, and so on. They’ve established growing departments at said locales and have their own conferences and ever-larger presences at others. They’ve even succeeded in having much of their literature and research perspective accepted by mainstream social science.

    If I believed that all of this were true, I would be horrified. The potential harm to society and to behavioral science would be almost incalculable. Were I to give a talk on it or write about it, I would dig deep. I would cite mainstream sources so that no one could dismiss me as cherry-picking. I would conduct or locate reviews of dozens or hundreds of studies, instead of citing one or two in tabloid newspapers easily dismissed as outliers, or taking the word of an author trying to sell books. I would read full published papers and foundational literature, not blurbs from the Telegraph about unpublished studies so that my understanding would become robust and accurate. I wouldn’t make an unserious, sarcastic tone my main presentational style because the stakes would be so high, the human cost so tragic.

    Watson wants us to believe this great dark power is working, inhibiting social justice, hurting real people and the advancement of science, and that it is entertaining to talk about. She says (for example) that it is working to justify rape. To make rape OK.  …But hey, no big deal, right? Not big enough to research properly or to stop making jokes about for two minutes. This flip attitude lacks empathy, and I find it ethically repugnant. If even close to true, her claim isn’t funny. It deserves real skeptical inquiry and serious investigation and she gave it none of this.

    [box] I. Overview and analysis

    II. Rebecca Watson uses all 5 tactics of science denialism

    III. Some lingering questions

    IV. 25 false and misleading claims made by Watson

    V. Conclusion

    VI. Resources & further reading



    IV. 25 False and misleading claims made by Watson


    Claim or statement (video index)


    1. “[Evolutionary psychology is] a field of study based on belief that the human brain as it exists today evolved completely during the Pleistocene era when humans lived as hunter-gatherers” (8:51)

    1) Evolutionary psychologists stipulate that change during the Holocene is possible; it is merely limited because 11k years is a short amount of evolutionary time for a species with a 20-year reproductive cycle.

    2) The study of recent evolution is avoided for two reasons. The first is that large “big picture” understanding of the evolution of the brain are unanswered, making the asking of  any smaller questions impossible. Second, uncritical claims about recent evolution are the kind that have been  politically used by fascists and racists who wish to claim one “race” is superior.

    3) Our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers for about 10 million years. This is a thousand times longer than they lived any other way (source). It is not reasonable to imagine  this period did not leave lasting marks on our psychology.

    Source & more information here.

    2.  Dr. Daniel Kruger’s 2009 study incorrectly cited as “University of Chicago study” (8:11, 9:41)

    Dr. Kruger is faculty at the University of Michigan. His study is titled Evolved foraging psychology underlies sex differences in shopping experiences and behaviors and was published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology.

    3.  Our brains evolved between 12k-1m years ago and haven’t changed since, this contradicts what we know about evolution. RW then gives, as an example of recent evolutionary change, our ability to drink animal milk. (12:45)

    1) See point 1 above. Evolutionary psychologists state plainly that small changes are possible.

    2) Drinking animal milk is a recent change, namely the mutation causing the enzyme lactase to be produced throughout the lifespan and not merely during infancy. However, this observation does not support RW’s argument because:

         a. Humans have shown virtually no major physiological changes in the last 10,000 years. Lactase is the exception, not the rule. This is evidence that the mind is unlikely to have many large recent changes, not the contrary.

        b. The mutation in the case of lactase is a simple one, an amendment to an existing enzyme’s production schedule. evolutionary psychologists largely focus on complex behaviors requiring equally complex genetic changes and thus far more time than the one observed with lactase.

        c. RW’s example relies on many assumptions about the conditions of the Pleistocene. For example, that humans had not yet domesticated cattle to get milk from, and that humans did not normally consume milk beyond childhood. This is inconsistent with her insistence that the Pleistocene is uncertain and unknowable for the purposes of scientific consideration in point 5.

    4.  EP’s claim “stuff written into our genes. They never tell us which genes” (13:27)

    The implication that gene(s) must be identified before an adaptation is demonstrated is specious. To quote Confer et al. 2010 

    […] Adaptations are typically defined by the complexity, economy, and efficiency of their design and their precision in effecting specific functional outcomes, not by the ability of scientists to identify their complex genetic bases (Williams, 1966). For example, the human eye is indisputably an adaptation designed for vision, based on the design features for solving the particular adaptive problems such as detecting motion, edges, colors, and contrasts. The reliably developing, universal, and complex design features of the eyes provide abundant evidence that they are adaptations for specific functions, even though scientists currently lack knowledge of the specific genes and gene interactions involved in the visual system.

    Source, page 120

     It should also be noted that Charles Darwin had no idea what a gene was, as he drafted his theory of evolution based on the observations of apparent adaptations.

    5. We know “shockingly little” about the Pleistocene era, it was varied in climate and ecology. “What we assume about them is taken from present day hunter-gatherer cultures” (13:39)

    1) Evolutionary psychologists only lean heavily on non-controversial facts about the past. For example, pregnancy involves numerous costs, and we therefore expect that females in many species will be more picky about mating than will males. This prediction has strong empirical support for both humans and other animals. Source

    2) The ancestral environment is not restricted to the Pleistocene. Powerful hormones, such as testosterone, for example, date back half a billion years. Breast feeding originated in early mammals eons before primates existed. To explain why we have bones, we’d consider ancient fishes hundreds of millions of years before the Pleistocene.

    3) Data about our human past comes from archaeology. Contemporary hunter-gatherer societies are presumed, quite sanely, to be more like our ancestors than we are, but not to be exactly like them. They are useful in helping to determine features which are purely cultural and otherwise only useful when they conform to previously mentioned non-controversial facts about the past (see also response to point 1).

    6. Evolutionary psychology claims are unfalsifiable. (13:17)

    1) EP theories must make testable claims and do so. Example: Robert Trivers predicted that, among all animals including humans which have two sexes, the sex with the greater minimum investment in offspring should be more sexually choosey and the other more sexually aggressive/promiscuous. A comparative study of animal behavior could easily disprove his theory, though it has been confirmed by many observations.

    2)  I have personal knowledge of colleagues who have had a research idea, collected data, and found no effect. These don’t get published, but nonetheless, an hypothesis is negated.

    3)  I wrote a paper, currently in press at the Quarterly Review of Biology criticizing one particular EP theory, which is to say, a test of that theory. 

    4) See a refutation of this specious claim from evolutionary psychologists here (Question 1, page 112).

    7. There are some contemporary African cultures in which men are the primary gatherers (posed as objection to the notion of a knowable stereotypic Pleistocene environment). (14:17)

    The anthropological record is clear that these cases are the exception, and that these exceptions happen for reasons based in ecology. To quote the study by Dr. Kruger which RW cited (see point 2):

    These are aggregate tendencies, as men sometimes gather (Halpern, 1980) and women sometimes hunt (Noss, 2001). The sex reversal in activities usually take place under special conditions, such as male gathering when meat is scarce during the dry season, and these men often specialized in carrying heavy loads rather than searching for food (Halpern, 1980). In environments where food is more abundant and less seasonal, males gatherer proportionally more so than in more scarce and seasonal environments (Marlowe, 2007). Women do not hunt as often as men, and usually hunt more reliable small game when caloric return is relatively high compared to gathering alternatives (Noss, 2001). For example, Agta women in central Africa hunt in groups with nets for small game, and do not hunt when they have infants, a limitation that men do not face (Noss, 2001). It is important to recognize that evolution by selection does not require or imply absolutes; there will often be a few examples that contrast with the general pattern. Therefore, in general men tend to hunt and women tend. )
    (Emphasis mine) Source.

    8.  Anthropologist Steven Kuhn argued the sexual division of labor did not exist prior to the upper Paleolithic (50k-10k years ago) (14:48)

    1) Kuhn’s hypothesis is just one of several attempting to explain why H. sapiens out-competed Neanderthals. Viable competing theories include symbol use and the invention of projectile weaponry.

    2) There is no consensus among archaeologists that the physical evidence proves upper Paleolithic humans were the first with a sexual division of labor, nor that Neanderthal’s lacked them.

    3) Subsequent studies have concluded Neanderthal women did not hunt as Kuhn supposed. Read here.

    4) RW cites Kuhn as proof that modern hunter-gatherers are not indicative of the past. Kuhn shares this view, but clarifies that such knowledge is useful in formulating models of the past. He wrote: […]models developed from data on recent hunter-gatherers are most informative precisely when they prove to be inadequate predictors of patterns encountered in the Paleolithic record. In using the present hunter-gatherer studies to detect disjunctive predictions about the Paleolithic hominins, he is engaging in the same comparative reasoning as evolutionary psychologists which RW is criticizing.

    5) Kuhn is an anthropologist speaking to archaeology. His hypothesis rests on his knowledge and inferences about the ecology and cultures of the distant past. RW’s points 5 and 7 claim that such knowledge is not admissible for consideration/that we can’t know such things.

    Read responses, including criticisms, of Kuhn’s paper at the end of the pdf at this link.

    9. “Tons of scientists.. who think that EP is ‘just so stories’” (15:26)

    It is unclear to whom “tons of scientists” refers. The only one named is Stephen Jay Gould who used the term “just so stories”, 33 years ago, which is no longer considered salient criticism by itself on the grounds of being trite and banal.

    Scholarly rebuttals to Gould’s criticism can be read here and here.

    10. RW describes EP process as choosing a behavior, “assuming it’s evolved, in response to environmental pressure”, and searching for relevant piece of evolutionary past. (15:41)

    1) No one believes that just any behavior must be an adaptation. Behaviors are chosen for testing when they show coherent function which is not explained by existing understanding. Even then, an hypothesis is considered speculative without data.

    2) It is unclear how RW envisions hypothesis generation in science. All science begins with an observation, and an attempt to account for it, generally using a research paradigm or model, then testing that account. In this regard, evolutionary psychology is standard science. RW seems to believe we can know what is true or false before we’ve even started.

    11. V.S. Ramachandran published a “satire” study “Why gentlemen prefer blondes” (16:00)

    1) He published his paper in a non-evolutionary
    psychology journal Medical Hypotheses. If his “satire” submission was so indistinguishable from “real” evolutionary psychology, why not publish in a mainstream evolutionary psychology journal?

    2) Medical Hypotheses defines itself as a space for unfounded and out-there ideas. Here is a bit from their website: “The journal will consider radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas provided they are coherently expressed.” About the journal Don Symons said, “If Medical Hypotheses is peer reviewed, it must be by chipmunks.”

    Read a more complete response from anthropologist Don Symons here.

    12. RW cites Satoshi Kanazawa’s work as an example of EP. (17:25)

    Satoshi Kanazawa is a disgraced outlier, roundly criticized from within and evolutionary psychology. To wit:

    1) RW cites an interview Kanazawa did for the Sun- a tabloid newspaper. In it, Kanazawa cites no original peer-reviewed research.

    2) In 2011 he was fired from his job at Psychology Today.

    3) 68 evolutionary psychologists issued a statement condemning his work on the basis of its poor quality and dishonest methods. It is titled Kanazawa’s bad science does not represent evolutionary psychology

    4) According to the above statement, 24 critiques involving 59 different scientists have been published in peer-reviewed journals of Kanazawa’s work. Kanazawa has not responded to any of them since 2002, showing his disengagement. 

    5) 35 leading minds in EP and related fields wrote a total deconstruction of his research model and published it in commentary in American Psychologist.

    6) His own employer, the London School of Economics, forbade him (as punishment) from publishing in non-peer reviewed outlets for a full year and distanced themselvesfrom some of his work. 

    13. During the lead-in to interlude about Cindy Meston & David Buss’s Why Women have Sex suggests the notion “women hate sex. Science has proven it” (20:07)

    Citation needed. On Amazon’s copy about the book the promo explicitly includes “pleasure” as one reason. Buss & Meston’s research clearly shows pleasure is important to both sexes.

    14. During the interlude about Cindy Meston & David Buss’s Why Women have Sex RW makes several false claims and misleading remarks (22:47)


    1) RW states 1,000 women polled were all white and middle-class. This is false. The women polled were diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic status, and came from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, China, and Australia. source

    2) RW criticizes the lack of a book about why men have sex. Most psychology research has a relatively narrow focus, they choose this topic because it interested them, much the same as any researchers in any field. Trying to understand one particular gender identity, age, race, class, or any other sub-group better is a perfectly legitimate goal unless there is evidence of bias, but no such evidence is presented by RW. Social scientists have often been criticized for focusing on men. It now seems they can not win no matter what they study. 

    3) Apart from the focus on women, which is evidently not acceptable, it’s not clear why RW brought this book up.

    4) RW lead into a segment about distorted views toward female sexuality (“women hate sex.. science proved it”) by citing two researchers whose work demonstrates some stereotypes about men and women are false. Read more at Psychology Today.

    In discussion of the top 10 reasons men/women have sex, the top for both was that they’re attracted to the person, and there was not much difference between genders (said Cindy Meston in this video). Cindy goes on to say this flies in the face of gender stereotypes. 

    15. RW insinuates authors of papers such as Gendered differences in receptivity to sexual offers say or imply women only want sex for marriage or other unsavory purposes. (22:43)

    Citation needed. Nowhere in Clark & Hatfield’s paper is this claim made. RW may be conflating ultimate and proximate levels of explanation. Women being more sexually conservative (an uncontroversial claim in mainstream psychology) is not a value judgment about that. RW seems to believe it paints women in a negative light and projects this opinion into the heads of researchers. Here is the paper.


    16. RW falsely implies that the study showing that men agreed to sex with a stranger and women didn’t means that the researchers deliberately set out to show “women hate sex” (23:41)


    17. RW falsely implies that the research is part of some conspiracy, designed to prove a pre-set conclusion in the name of evolutionary psychology. (23:44)

    1) In the discussion of expected results, it’s clear the researchers did not know what to expect. They outlined 3 possibilities; one in which both sexes were more receptive than expected, one in which less so, and one matching stereotypical views. From the paper: It may be, that men and women are not so different as social stereotypes suggest. Again and again, researchers have found that while men and women expect the sexes to respond in very different ways, when real men and real women find themselves caught up in naturalistic settings, they respond in much the same way. (p. 48)

    2) Nowhere in the conclusion do the authors say or imply women do not like sex as much as men.

    3) The authors are clearly social psychologists with no particular strong ties to evolutionary theories over cultural ones of the time. They write in the conclusion: Of course, the sociological interpretation- that women are interested in love while men are interested in sex- is not the only possible interpretation of these data. It may be, of course, that both men and women were equally interested in sex, but that men associated fewer risks with accepting a sexual invitation that did women. …also the remnants of a double standard may make women afraid to accept the man’s invitation(p. 52)

    18. RW suggests an alternate explanation for the conclusion of the sexual offers studies: the threat of rape, but does so 23 years after the original authors. (25:23)

    The original 1989 paper states as part of its conclusion that the risk of assault is greater for women, and that this could help explain the findings. (p. 51-52)

    19. RW correctly indicates that the study suggesting strippers make more when they’re ovulating is bunk, but this one study is hardly the only word on the matter. (29:26)

    The stripper study was indeed very flawed. However, these studies of behavior changes during ovulation are not:

    Chavanne, T.J., & Gallup, G.G. (1998). Variation in risk taking behavior among female college students as a function of the menstrual cycle. Evolution and Human Behavior, 19, 27–32.

    Fessler, D.M.T., & Navarrete, C.D. (2003). Domain-specific variationin disgust sensitivity across the menstrual cycle. Evolution and Human Behavior, 324, 406–417.

    Gangestad, S.W., Simpson, J.A., Cousins, A.J., Garver-Apgar, C.E., & Christensen, P.N. (2004). Women’s preferences for male behavioral displays change across the menstrual cycle. Psychological Science, 15, 203–207. 

    Gangestad, S.W., & Thornhill, R. (1998). Menstrual cycle variation in women’s preference for the scent of symmetrical men. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 262, 727–733. 

    Gangestad, S.W., Thornhill, R., & Garver, C.E. (2002). Changes in women’s sexual interests and their  partners’ mate retention tactics across the menstrual cycle: Evidence for shifting conflicts of interest. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 269, 975–982. 

    Gangestad, S.W., Thornhill, R., & Garver-Apgar, C.E. (2005). Female sexual interests across the ovulatory cycle depend on primary partner developmental instability. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 272, 2023–2027. 

    Haselton, M.G., & Gangestad, S.W. (2006). Conditional expression of women’s desires and men’s mate guarding across the ovulatory cycle. Hormones and Behavior. 

    Haselton, M.G., & Miller, G.F. (2002). Evidence for ovulatory shifts in attraction to artistic and entrepreneurial excellence. Human Nature. 

    Johnston, V.S., Hagel, R., Franklin, M., Fink, B., & Grammer, K. (2001). Male facial attractiveness: Evidence for hormone mediated adaptive design. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23, 251–267. 

    Macrae, C.N., Alnwick, K.A., Milne, A.B., & Schloerscheidt, A.M. (2002). Person perception across the menstrual cycle: Hormonal influences on social-cognitive functioning. Psychological Science, 13, 532–536. 

    20. RW says that a New Scientist article on color perception is “trying to support a shitty stereotype about women.” This is largely correct, but the details are not amenable to the conspiratorial language, and show that the authors reflect on cultural influences and not merely biology. (34:27)

    1) The authors stated clearly that both sexes and both English and Chinese ethnicities overwhelmingly prefer blues to any other color. This is not an impressive effort at supporting any stereotypes. 

    2) The authors did expect cultural influence, including the Chinese belief that “red is lucky”. RW calls this observation the study “contradicting itself” instead of the authors merely considering all relevant factors. Evolutionary psychologists do not have a black & white view of culture versus biology. 

    3) RW says part of the study was done in China. This is incorrect. The study was done in the UK. Some subjects were ethnically Han Chinese recently relocated to the UK. 

    4) RW is correct that the authors really do strain to support a false premise that women in some way prefer a more reddish blue in order to help explain the purported preference for pink among women. This is not necessary as that is surely a cultural affectation and nothing more. Other studies assume as much, such as An evolutionary perspective of Sex-typed toy preferences: Pink, blue, and the brain. This paper by Gerianne Alexander provides a coherent EP perspective without any silly biological preference for pink sort of claims.

    Read the paper featured in NewScientist  here.
    Read Alexander’s paper here.

    21. RW suggests that the stereotype that men cry less is invented and perpetuated by evolutionary psychologists. (35:40)

    1) The evidence is that a reduced male tendency to cry (or to appear to cry) is not cultural. A 2011 study of 37 nations including Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Oceana and a total of 5,715 subjects found that in all places women report a stronger tendency to cry and to have done so more recently. Analysis of the 74 comparisons (2 measures x 37 nations) showed the same effect size for sex in all but three. This is very substantial evidence sex plays a significant role independent of culture. Read about it here. The study itself can be found in here. 

    2) Lombardo et. al conducted a study on gender, crying in 1981, then again in 1996 using diverse subjects. Although many researchers noted the culture of the US had changed in that time, the two studies reported the same results. See “For Crying out loud..” here.

    22. RW suggests that the idea that a woman’s place is the home is novel to the industrial era and that evolutionary psychologists are bent on looking for reasons to support the  stereotypical view. (36:08)

    1) Citation needed with respect to evolutionary psychologists being determined to establish the stereotypical view. Here is what evolutionary psychologists say:

    “Nothing in evolutionary theory privileges males over females, however, nor does evolutionary theory prescribe social ‘roles’ for either sex. Are ovaries superior to testicles? The question is meaningless. Are male mate preferences superior to female mate preferences? The question is equally meaningless.” –Edward Hagan

    “[…] evolutionary explanations of the traditional division of labor by sex do not imply that it is unchangeable, “natural” in the sense of good, or something that should be forced on individual women or men who don’t want it.”-Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, p. 492

    “[…] We share the view that men’s historical control of power and resources, a core component of patriarchy, can be damaging to women in domains ranging from being forced to endure a bad marriage to suffering crimes such as genital mutilation and ‘honor killings’ for perceived sexual infractions.” –David Buss and David Schmitt

    2) RW may wish to reconsider using Steven Kuhn as a reference re: Pleistocene division of labor (see point 8) as his argument is that upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens had a well-developed sexual division of labor including that related to childcare 40,000 or more years prior to the industrial revolution. 

    23. RW indicates that evolutionary psychologists are “using bad science to keep women and minorities down is nothing new” not much has changed in 100 years. (36:58)

    Citation needed. There is no evidence that the evolutionary psychology research program is based on subjugation of anyone, and much to the contrary. Refutations in point 22 are similar. The claim of oppressing minorities is especially bizarre. A fundamental claim of evolutionary psychology is that human nature is pan-human, an idea which would undermine any biological justification of prejudice on the basis of class or race. 

    24. RW says that evolutionary psychologists assert that “men evolved to rape” in order to justify rape with “it’s natural for men to rape”. (38:19)

    1) Citation needed. There is no evidence that the evolutionary psychologists studying rape attempted to justify it in any way, shape or form, and evidence to the contrary (see 3&4 below) 

    2) This is an incidence of the naturalistic fallacy. See discussion in section II part 5.

    3) The evolutionary psychology of rape informs that rape is a more heinous violent crime than other types of assault. Commenting on Thornhill & Palmer’s book on the subject Tooby and Cosmides wrote, “Thornhill and Palmer argue that women evolved to deeply value their control over their own sexuality, the terms of their relationships, and the choice of which men are to be fathers of their children. Therefore, they argue, part of the agony that rape victims suffer is because their control over their own sexual choices and relationships was wrested from them.” Source 

    4) There is no monolithic view on the truth of hypothesis that rape could be an adaption. David Buss and David Schmitt wrote in a 2011 paper Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism, “We concur with Symons’s 1979 summary that the then-available evidence was not “even close to sufficient to warrant the conclusion that rape itself is a facultative  adaptation in the human male” (Symons 1979, p. 284). We believe that his conclusion is as apt today as it was then.” These are very influential people in  evolutionary psychology rejecting the claim which RW says evolutionary psychology exists to promote. Source

    25. RW correctly notes that stereotypes reduce minority interest in things like skeptical events and organizations. She describes a Stanford study which demonstrates the harmful effect of stereotype threats. This is well and good, but not especially relevant to RW’s topic, nor is any connection between the two created. (42:16)

    Studies on the effects of stereotype threats are
    revealing of the harm of stereotypes, but this says nothing about evolutionary psychology as a research program.

    The relevance of this segment relies on the claim that evolutionary psychologists deliberately seek to support harmful stereotypes. As this is false, and everyone agrees that stereotypes can be very harmful. RW has produced no evidence of this claim, making the segment interesting but irrelevant to her thesis. 

    V. Conclusion

    During my undergraduate years, I was a secular student leader on my campus. For that reason, I attended the 3rd and 4th Skepticon conferences with my student group (I did not attend the most recent one in which Watson spoke about evolutionary psychology). I had a great time at both. Some of my favorite people and best friends attend and present at Skepticon. Here’s a photo of me with Rebecca Watson at Skepticon 3.

    Good times.

    The people I met and experiences I have had at Skepticon had a big impact on me. That’s one of the reasons I care so much about what happens there, and what the quality of the discourse is. The average attendee is a college student expecting to hear from authorities and experts. This isn’t just about Skepticon, though. As I write this Rebecca Watson is in Australia speaking at the Australian Skeptics National Convention. Watson travels all over the world as a self-appointed ambassador of skepticism, and of America. We should rightly be concerned about the quality of output of anyone fulfilling such an influential role.

    Some of my colleagues have suggested, I would say cynically, that Rebecca Watson and her allies are likely to respond to this criticism by disparaging my character or insinuating I have ulterior motives (perhaps as part of the grand scientific conspiracy). I sincerely hope this is not the case. My aim here is not to attack Watson, but to challenge a few of her unnuanced views about science and skepticism with which I happen to have professional experience. If she wishes to produce a sound, more sophisticated criticism of evolutionary psychology (entirely reasonable to do) then I would call this a success. Moreover, motive is ultimately irrelevant to the validity of my criticisms here. They stand or fall on the evidence alone. I am sure that anyone experienced in skepticism knows this quite well.

    I believe in skepticism as a condition to living well, and for doing science. I therefore tow no lines for any entity or cause, not an evolutionary psychology edifice or anything else. I have mentioned my forthcoming paper currently in press, but I have not told you what it is about. Briefly stated, it is an hypothesis test of an adaptationist theory about gender differences in one kind of cognitive ability. The adaptationist theory is couched in “man the hunter, woman the gatherer” theoretical trimmings of the sort Watson dislikes so much. I test the hypothesis using a cross-species comparative analysis. My findings do not support the adaptationist model, and I suggest an alternative explanation which is non-adaptationist and consistent with the data. In Watsonian terms, I’ve done the impossible (evolutionary psychology theories can’t be tested/falsified) by rejecting the party line (everything is an adaptation) consequently breaking a gender stereotype in total defiance of a fundamental purpose of the field (to oppress women)— and it’s being published in a venerable biology journal. If I am an evolutionary psychologist, I must be the worst one ever. I’ve broken every rule. I must be biding my time until they kick me out of the clubhouse.

    So, I formally criticized a theory in evolutionary psychology that has stood for years. I did it, in part, because I love evolutionary psychology. I know that it’s a good science and that a good science gets better with robust criticism. I am excited to be able to play a tiny part in that, if I can. It was also an exercise in skepticism toward something I cared about. We need to engage in this kind of skepticism because as we try to figure out how the world works and how it got to be the way it is, commitments to ego and politics tend to get in the way. All of her skep-nomenclature trappings to the contrary, I do not think that Rebecca Watson understands this.

    VI. Resources and further reading

    Public google folder with PDFs of many studies referenced in this essay plus the above table in Microsoft Word format

    Detailed evolutionary psychology FAQ at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology. Here is a  selection of questions from the FAQ:

    Don Symons response to VS Ramachandran.
    Rebuttals to David Buller’s book Adapting Minds.
    John Alcock on why Stephen Jay Gould was wrong.
    68 Scientists condemn Satoshi Kanazawa as “not representing evolutionary psychology”

    Category: Critical ThinkingEvolutionary PsychologyFeatured IncSkeptic Ink News and Report

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.